Art

Crafting Critical Approaches to Americans’ Relationship to Possessions

OBJECTS: REDUX, a reimagining of the groundbreaking 1969 Smithsonian exhibition OBJECTS: USA, explores innovative creation rooted in tradition and convention.

Jennifer Ling Datchuk, “Loving Care” (2019), Porcelain, fake hair, porcelain beads from Jingdezhen, China, rope, ferns (made in collaboration with Marta Francine, all photos by Shayla Blatchford)

“Craft tends to be considered anything that is handmade,” curator William Dunn says, gesturing in the cavernous atrium of Santa Fe’s form & concept gallery. “It can be functional, it can be sculptural and non-functional; it has a really wide definition.”

OBJECTS: REDUX—50 Years of Craft Evolution is both a reimagining of the groundbreaking 1969 Smithsonian exhibition OBJECTS: USA, as well as an offshoot of OBJECTS: REDUX: How 50 Years Made Craft Contemporary at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft.

“It was a cacophonous display of craft,” Dunn says of the Smithsonian exhibition. At form & concept, he says, “We tried to recreate the original exhibition by [having an] exuberant display of every single medium all together. We sourced some historic craft from artists from the original exhibition … and we paired it with contemporary makers.”

The social and political implications of the work in OBJECTS: REDUX are rich, both with regards to the tradition of making as well as the relation of these objects to the zeitgeist. On the main floor, Dunn is eager to point out the relationships between exhibited textiles, which hang from the ceiling and sway gently as we examine them.

Kay Sekimachi, “Ogawa II” (1969), Nylon monofilament, glass beads, clear plastic tubes (courtesy of the Forrest L. Merrill Collection)

Trude Guermonprez’s woven sculpture presents two intersecting flat tapestries that form an X. It’s hung just a few feet from Kay Sekimachi’s ethereal weaving of nylon monofilament, pillowy in its shape, never meant to lie flat. “I love the three-dimensionality to their fiber work,” Dunn says of the pieces. “Within OBJECTS: USA, you saw a lot of radical fiber; a lot of three-dimensional fiber. I thought it would be really fun to pair it with C Alex Clark.”

We take a few steps to the right, where a flat tapestry hangs from the ceiling. Dunn grabs a tablet from a nearby shelf and holds it up to the piece. “[C] created an app, so when you hold up the tablet, these crystals and holograms come out of this tapestry,” he says, adjusting the height of the tablet’s camera, as if reading a QR code. “I thought it was interesting to have these three-dimensional pieces paired with this flat tapestry that has an augmented reality to it; like a fourth dimension.”

These kinds of relationships between objects make statements about craft itself, and also look critically at Americans’ relationship to objects and possessions. Take, for example, Rowland Ricketts’s studies of American coverlets, dyed with indigo that he grows himself.

“When he was studying these coverlets, he was also studying the triangle trade, the trade of indigo and people and goods,” Dunn says. “These are quintessential American textiles, and these textiles came to be known and made through the trading of people, and slavery is a quintessential American evil … and they can’t be separated from each other.”

Rowland Ricketts, “Drawings” (2019), Indigo and madder-dyed linen, undyed wool, 26 x 34 inches

Ricketts’s textile criticisms of slavery sit adjacent to the weavings of Jennifer Ling Datchuk, which mimic macramé plant holders but are made from technicolor synthetic hair woven into hangers for pots of blue and white china.

“A lot of Jennifer Ling Datchuk’s work looks at her dual identity as a Chinese woman and a Caucasian woman,” Dunn says, gently stroking the pony tail-like fibers hanging from the ceiling. “These are actually synthetic hair weave, which she purchased off of Ebay from a man in China. … It makes you think about globalization, and this relationship that we have with China, and how much of our stuff comes from China — and we don’t really know the origins of the things we have in our home, and we take that for granted.”

One of the more evocative pieces in the large exhibition is a hefty ceramic vessel by Nicki Green, a trans artist from San Francisco. The vase sports symmetrical phallic protuberances along its base, and all around the vessel are delicately hand-painted surgical steps.

Nicki Green, “Operating in Bright Sunlight” (2015), Glazed earthenware, 17.5 x 15 x 15 inches

“On this vessel, she researched early gender confirmation surgery, and found a website from the ’90s that had step-by-step photos of gender confirmation,” Dunn says. “A lot of her work explores her Jewish identity, her feminine identity, her trans identity in really exquisite ways.”

So indeed the craft is not only of the objects in front of us, but it’s a crafting of society, of our understanding of our relationship with objects, and — in the beautiful case of Nikki Green in particular — the crafting of self, of our own identities and worlds, and the crafting of the existence at large.

OBJECTS: REDUX—50 Years of Craft Evolution will continue at form & concept (435 S Guadalupe St., Santa Fe, NM) through March 27, 2020. The exhibition was curated by William Dunn.

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